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Lesbian EEOC appointment dies in Senate

GOP leaders allow Utah senator to block nomination of Chai Feldblum

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Chai Feldblum, gay news, Washington Blade

Chai Feldblum will not serve a third term at the EEOC. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The nomination of lesbian attorney Chai Feldblum for a third term on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission died in the Senate last week when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to allow a vote to break a hold placed on the nomination by a single senator.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in early December invoked a longstanding Senate rule that gives a single senator the ability to hold up and potentially kill a presidential nomination when he filed an official objection to Feldblum’s nomination on grounds that he disagrees with her record of support for LGBT rights.

Among other things, Lee cited what he said were Feldblum’s past statements and actions showing she has a bias against “religious freedom” principles as applied to employment law. Feldblum and her supporters have said Lee misinterpreted Feldblum’s positions on such issues, saying she has a deep respect for faith related matters as the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi.

Lee’s objection came after President Donald Trump earlier in 2018 nominated Feldblum for a third term on the EEOC at the request of Senate Democrats as part of a longstanding bipartisan tradition of appointing EEOC members from both political parties. At the time he nominated Feldblum, a Democrat, Trump also nominated two others for the EEOC that were recommended by Senate Republicans.

Since the three nominees were submitted to the Senate as a package, Lee placed all three on hold. Similar to Feldblum’s nomination, Trump nominees Janet Dhillon and Daniel Gade, both Republicans, also died at the end of the Senate’s 2018 session for lack of a vote.

Feldblum, a nationally recognized civil rights attorney, told the Washington Blade this week that her supporters in the Senate told her they believed they had the 60 votes needed to break the hold placed on her and the other two nominees by Lee. But under Senate rules, such a vote could not take place unless it was arranged for by the majority party leadership, including Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

“Today at noon my commission on the EEOC expires,” Feldblum said in a Jan. 3 Facebook posting. “What a wonderful almost nine-year run I have had!” she said. “I will always be grateful for the wonderful colleagues I have served with on the Commission,” she continued.

“Thank you to everyone who worked so hard for my confirmation. We certainly gave it our best shot,” she said. “Now is the time to fight even harder for diversity, safety, and equity. There is no other way!”

Feldblum has been credited with playing a lead role in two pivotal EEOC rulings in support of LGBT employment rights.

In 2015 she was part of the 3-2 majority vote by the five-member EEOC that found that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation constitutes gender discrimination under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 2012, Feldblum was part of the EEOC’s unanimous ruling that employment discrimination against transgender people also violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“For nearly nine years Chai Feldblum worked tirelessly with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to uphold our nation’s civil rights laws,” said David Stacy, Director of Government Affairs for the Human Rights Campaign. “As a skilled attorney and public servant who has passionately advocated for equality under the law, Feldblum more than deserved to be confirmed for another term,” Stacy said.

“While Senate Democrats fought hard to move her nomination forward and she most certainly would have been confirmed with strong bipartisan support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shamefully refused to schedule a vote,” Stacy said. “The blame for this disgraceful outcome falls squarely on the shoulders of Senator Lee and Senate Majority Leader McConnell.”

Elliot Imse, Senior Director of Communications for the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which advocates for the election and appointment of LGBT people for public office, said it was the “height of irony and absolutely unconscionable” that Feldblum was removed from her position at the EEOC because she is a lesbian.

“Mike Lee is a bigot, period, and his actions must be condemned by all members of Congress who believe LGBTQ Americans have the right to work free of discrimination,” Imse said.

Spokespersons for Lee and McConnell couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

In comments on the Senate floor last month expressing his opposition to Feldblum’s nomination Lee stated, “Ms. Feldblum has written that she sees a conflict between religious belief and LGBT liberty as ‘a zero sum game’ where ‘a gain for one side necessarily entails a corresponding loss for the other side.”

Feldblum has called  this characterization inaccurate and misleading, saying that while nondiscrimination laws must prevail in cases involving employers doing business with the general public, such laws could place burdens on religious exercise and that “government should err on the side of accepting” such a burden could exist.

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Louisiana lawmakers fail to overturn Edwards veto of Trans sports bill

Edwards further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”

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Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards (Photo Credit: Official state portrait)

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana lawmakers failed to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto last month of a bill that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.

The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue. 

The Republican majority state House chamber failed to override the Governor’s veto after voting 68-30 to override it, according to the state legislature’s website.

The vote narrowly missed the 70-vote threshold needed in the lower chamber to override the veto.

Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must vote to override a governor’s veto, according to the local Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.

The Governor reacted to the news that his veto withstood Republican efforts to overturn it in a press conference Wednesday.

Edwards noted that in his view he had “rejected a play” that had no place in Louisiana. 

“I would rather the headlines going out from today be that Louisiana did what was right and best. We rejected a play out of a national playbook that just had no place in Louisiana. That bill wasn’t crafted for our state, I mean go read it and look at the arguments that were made. None of that applies here,” Edwards said.

He further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.” 

“We have to be better than that,” Edwards said. “We have to be better than that.” 

 

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Federal court blocks West Virginia Law banning Trans youth sports

“It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

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Becky Pepper-Jackson (Photo credit: ACLU/Raymond Thompson)


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A judge of the United States District Court, Southern District of West Virginia ruled Wednesday that 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson must be allowed to try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her school, blocking West Virginia from enforcing a law that bans transgender girls and women from participating in school sports. 

The ruling came in the lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia, and Cooley LLP.

“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” said Becky Pepper-Jackson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed H.B. 3293 into law at the end of April. It was one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2021. During legislative debate, it was not endorsed by any mainstream sporting or health organizations. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020, and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams. Legal challenges are underway against similar laws passed in other states.

The Supreme Court recently refused to disturb Gavin Grimm’s victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where he prevailed in challenging his school’s anti-transgender discrimination against him. This decision — which is binding precedent in West Virginia federal court — said that federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools.

“This is great news for Becky, and while our work is not done yet, today’s ruling jibes with similar rulings in other courts across the country,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “It is our hope that courts recognize and address discrimination when they see it, and nowhere is it more visible than in these stark attacks against trans youth.”

“Becky — like all students — should have the opportunity to try out for a sports team and play with her peers,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We hope this also sends a message to other states to stop demonizing trans kids to score political points and to let these kids live their lives in peace.” 

“We’ve said all along this cruel legislation would not survive a legal challenge, and we’re encouraged by the court’s decision today,” said ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark. “We hope trans kids throughout West Virginia who felt attacked and wronged by the passage of this legislation are feeling empowered by today’s news.”

“We are extremely gratified — for Becky, and for all trans youth — at the court’s recognition that the law and the facts clearly support treating people who are transgender fairly and equally. Discrimination has no place in schools or anywhere else,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.

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Conservative groups attack proposed Alabama capital city’s LGBTQ law

The groups allege that the law would require Christians to violate their religious beliefs or face fines under certain circumstances

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Approach to the Alabama State Capitol (Blade file photo)

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama capital’s City Council is being urged to reject a proposed ordinance that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under the law.  Matthew Clark, the Executive Director of the conservative Alabama Center for Law and Liberty sent a letter on behalf of his group and six allied organizations asking the Council to abandon a vote implementing the ordnance.

According to the letter, the groups allege that the law would require Christians to violate their religious beliefs or face fines under certain circumstances. Prominent among the other signatures is Mathew D. Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group.

The SPLC, which has its headquarters in Montgomery, writes; “The Liberty Counsel has also been active in the battle against same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation, which it claimed in a 2007 news release to be “’thought crimes’ laws that violate the right to freedom of speech and of conscience” and will “have a chilling effect on people who have moral or religious objections to homosexual behavior.” In that same release, the Liberty Counsel falsely claimed that the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., had nothing to do with homosexuality, but instead was “a bungled robbery.”

In the letter Clark noted; ““As we read the ordinance, churches could be fined if they refuse to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, and they might be fined if they refused to let same-sex couples use their facilities for weddings,” Clark said. “They could also be fined if they declined to hire non-ministerial personnel, such as facility managers or secretaries, whose sexual orientation or gender identity contradicts the tenants of the church’s faith.”

“Christian schools, small business owners, and homeowners are also in the crosshairs. Schools could face liability if they decline to let transgender students use the locker rooms of their choice,” Clark said. “Small business owners like Jack Phillips [referring to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission] could face liability. And homeowners who list their homes on Airbnb could be fined if they declined to let a same-sex couple engage in sexual activities in their home that violate the tenants of their faith.”

Clark then warned the City Council that if it passes the ordinance, litigation could result and the City would likely lose.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported last month that City Mayor Steven Reed said a council vote in favor of the LGTBQ nondiscrimination ordinance that’s now being drafted in Montgomery would send a message. 

“There are signals that communities can send, and this is an important signal not only to those residents that live here right now but people all over the country that have maybe one idea of Alabama and Montgomery, and we want to show them that there’s a different reality here,” he said. 

Reed and his team have been working with the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups to draft an ordinance that would expand protections for LGBTQ residents in the state’s capital city. The proposed measure, which would specifically target discrimination in government, employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity the Advertiser reported.

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